Agent Running in the Field: Spymaster emerges from his own shadowy myth

Book review: In John le Carré’s latest, old ways are renounced, and old habits die hard

 John le Carré:  attempting a final reckoning with the fastidious equivocation that has defined his career. Photograph: John MacDougall/AFP/Getty Images

John le Carré: attempting a final reckoning with the fastidious equivocation that has defined his career. Photograph: John MacDougall/AFP/Getty Images

Like detective stories, spy novels are concerned with the unravelling of mysteries, but what sets them apart is the persistence of uncertainty.

The detective may be a boozer or a basket case, but catching killers wipes even the grimiest slate clean. The spy, by contrast, grows less sure of his convictions with every secret he uncovers. John le Carré may not have been the first to identify this paradox – it was also exploited by earlier practitioners such as Eric Ambler – but he grasped its implications like no one before him, and in doing so elevated a disreputable genre to a tenebrous art.

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